For quite some time, Ashevilleans have been operating under the assumption that we know ourselves, but Craigslist reminded me that we are a community of collaborators.
At a cursory glance, Asheville and her people appear to be easy to define. We are the Beer City USA, after all, and that says a little something about us both as creators and consumers.
And what about our street entertainers or the drum circles? Vance Memorial is a swirl of emotion with protesters and placards and bullhorns. Geographically, we are mountain folk, donning hiking boots under our organic cotton skirts. Commercially, we love specialty shops, and if Lexington Avenue is any kind of microcosm of our big picture, we are a people who wear vintage clothes, drink in cozy pubs and consume as many books as we do baguettes. We are dog people, festival lovers and live music junkies. But are these descriptors just low-hanging fruit?
They may explain to the world at large what we do, but do they truly express who we are?
This all became very clear to me during a recent Craigslist search. It was innocent enough. I was looking for a reasonably priced love seat when the frugal fanatic in me noticed a section called “free.” It was an unassuming label, not even capitalized to give it some authority. I clicked through and discovered a whole different side of Asheville, not so much the underbelly, but certainly a more vulnerable and intimate look at who we are as a community.
I was first struck by the multiple “curb alert” postings. Apparently, Asheville is populated by numerous well-meaning Gladys Cravits peppered throughout our neighborhoods as far-reaching as West Asheville, to Woodfin, all the way down to Fletcher. These notices are posted to make neighbors aware of free treasures available somewhere on their street. Some of the postings even offer a few details of what to expect: “Free couch with red cover. Legs scratched by cat” or “twin bed frame, 3 pumpkins and 20 or so empty wine bottles.”
These postings read like a glimpse into a private journal. I wondered how long it took to accumulate the 20 or so empty wine bottles. Was it one big event or did it take several weeks? What role did the pumpkins play? Scattered among the curb alerts are postings most Ashevilleans would expect to find: free roosters, document tubes, loads of sofas and, curiously, a three-legged table complete with picture.
We seem to be a generous people, ecologically aware and, based on the three-legged table entry, optimistic. It seems that the owner was never able to figure out how to attach that essential fourth leg but counted on a handy neighbor to possess the supplies and skills to get the job done. So we are a community of collaborators. We not only collectively make local beer, but we also create a community table to drink it around. “I have three legs, bring a fourth” type of thing.
By far the most revealing entry was the humble offering of a homemade batch of bacteria fermented into a tea called kombucha. Some kind soul brewed it and was willing to give away the “SCOBY and 2 cups of kombucha” as a starter batch for any interested neighbor. SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, I learned. The bacteria culture, should you choose not to drink it, can also be used to create artificial leather. An unexpected ancillary benefit, I suppose. The Craigslist kombucha enthusiast did not limit her posting to the concoction itself but also offered to teach the recipient how to continue the process.
And this is the essence of Asheville. We are a people of ingenuity with an endless capacity to repurpose, collaborate and contribute to one another’s well-being, even to a microscopic level.
We are so much more than a city of people who scorn razors and play in bands and cluster around coffee shops and chocolate lounges with our tattoos and dogs. We are people who care for each other. We give according to our ability and take according to our need. We are a full-service community as generous as we are diverse. We give away everything from a warm bed to a warm batch of bacterial tea to drink in it. I challenge any city in the world to match our sui generis way of living and loving.